Fittingly, for the season in which sniffles are all-pervasive and any room big enough to hold more than one person is the scene of all-out nasal warfare, developer Appxplore's new brain-teaser Sporos is all about spreading infection.
Like all the best puzzlers, Sporos is simple to learn and somewhat trickier to master. Two games modes are on offer, each with subtly different rulesets that have dramatic implications for the way you play.
Spread a little lurgy
Essential Lab mode is Sporos at its most straightforward. Here, each stage presents you with a different board arrangement and a handful of spore strains to do your bidding.
Strains are defined by the directions they spread once dragged to a cell on the board. This can be anywhere from two to six directions as once, as indicated by their individual markings.
Your ultimate objective is to infect every cell on the board by dropping your spores down strategically. Conceptually, it's about as simple as puzzlers come, with only a handful of rules to worry about. For instance, spores can spread through already-infected cells but can’t pass through other spores - meaning order of placement is key.
To aid in your quest for cellular domination, Sporos gives you a ton of visual feedback as you shift spores around. Faint outlines fan out to show the spread of your infection which, while helpful, does diminish the amount of cranial flexing necessary to complete each stage.
Indeed, we managed to blow through 50 of Sporos's 300 Essential Lab puzzles in all of 20 minutes. Later puzzles thankfully do set the difficulty bar higher. But, even then, Essential Lab mode is more of a mental warm-up than a full-out cerebral workout.
For a more robust challenge, you need to head over to Experimental Lab mode. Here, each stage features a number of cell mutations that redirect your spore lines as they pass on through. It's no longer enough to rely on luck, guesswork, and visual cues - instead you need to think an extra step ahead, making for a deeper, more rewarding setup.
Sporos is far from the most sophisticated puzzler out there, and its rather gentle difficulty curve and limited variety do eventually rob the game of its initial thrill. However, there's still fun to be had from its gently paced cerebral action and, with a whopping 500 puzzles to solve, there's plenty here to keep genre fans amused.
Now wash your hands.